The Best Brainiac Design Ever
I actually started an article some time ago about the various looks Superman villain Brainiac has sported over the years. It ultimately went nowhere because every design pales since Ed Hannigan designed a robotic version of Brainiac in 1983. It didn’t hurt that in it’s very first appearance, in Action Comics 544, it was drawn by Gil Kane.
In that issue, Superman fails to stop a star, Epsilon 4 from going supernova. orbiting that star is the mechanized planet Brainiac fought Superman with in their last encounter. Brainiac is imprisoned within the planet’s core. Making the sun go nova is Brainiac’s plan to gain the energy to escape. Unfortunately, there’s been an error in the calculations and Brainiac begins to discorporate. His essence flows throughout the universe, gaining knowledge from a variety of sources.
Coming back to Epsilon-4, he’s drawn into the black hole and finds himself at the beginning of time, with the mysterious ghostly hand at creation. It attempts to wipe him out, but Brainiac flees and goes forward in time to build a new body for himself, more calculating and robotic. This is to defeat the “Master Programmer” that seeks to destroy him and his angel of death, Superman.
With a new ship modeled after his new head, Brainiac easily conquers Systus-2. Predictably, they contact Superman for assistance. When he arrives, he is de-powered and captured by Brainiac. Before Brainiac can kill him, Systus-2 attacks with everything they have, giving Superman an opening to escape. He returns to Earth and Brainiac makes new plans to destroy Superman.
Superman asks the Teen Titans and the Justice League to help stop Brainiac. When his alien armies attack Earth, Superman leads the defense. Superman then takes his fight to Brainiac and lures him into a trap near the sun. Superman creates a sunspot to interefere with Brainiac’s circutry. Confused that he has been unable to calculate Superman’s actions, he flees into hyperspace.
Why Is This Design So Good?
The pink shirt Brainiac was a relic of the Silver Age. In Action Comics #544, Lex Luthor also saw a redesign by George Pérez. The anniversary issue was an occasion to update these villains, and Brainiac really stood out. It was drastically different from its predecessor. Thanks to its inclusion in the Super Powers action figure line, it became almost instantly iconic. The look has come back from time to time as robots under Brainiac’s control, but there were some that sought to return Brainiac to his more humanoid roots, appearance-wise at least.
It also helped to visualize a change at DC Comics, as it revamped its image as comics like New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes passed Batman and Superman in sales. This villain was more calculating and devoid of empathy or compassion. This is reflected in the design. As DC Comics advanced its march out of a legacy of Silver Age style stories, previously slowed by the perception of a plethora of talent and editors resistant to the new trends in comics, we saw more villains that had higher stakes for the iconic heroes. Brainiac’s robotic design symbolized that. A generation of new children discovering comics came along, making this design their Brainiac.
Sometimes, all it takes for a redesign to become iconic is for it just to completely different from anything that had come before. Consider Spider-Man’s black costume. Look at Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman. The robotic Brainiac was unlike any other villain at DC. Consider that this Brainiac got a major role in Crisis On Infinite Earths, and you have the recipe for something truly special.